James O'Neill's Blog

September 3, 2007

So long Compact flash: a new camera

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 11:09 am

It’s amazing to see a technology to go from “new”to “Obsolete” in half a dozen years. I remember buying an IBM Microdrive in 2001 – a power hungry and rather unreliable device it was, the jacket for my iPAQ would take CF type II cards. A year later my first digital compact camera took CF but only Type I so I spent £70 on a 64MB card. (Today I can buy four cards, 4GB in capacity for that)  In 2003 first digital SLR also took CF. Both cameras came from Pentax; I loved the SLR but was indifferent to the compact. Pentax have gone totally SD since, so my updated SLR takes SD cards, my last 3 phones have used SD or a derivative of it. My previous laptop had SD support and I’ve added SD support to the Dell. Since the secondhand value for the compact was close to zero I put it in a scuba housing. But it wasn’t great. Its short-life proprietary batteries mean I have to take a charger and a second battery on dive trips. The Screen is small, the shutter lag dreadful.

I began to cast around for a new camera and the newer Pentax models don’t have dive housings; which meant changing brands: no great loss in compacts. My requirements didn’t seem so very tough.

  • Dive housing available
  • AA Batteries
  • SD Memory

I didn’t have any megapixel requirement -I’ll repeat something I’ve said before more megapixels means the image formed by the lens is recorded with greater fidelity. The lenses on most compacts don’t justify the pixels the marketing folk won’t the put behind them.  I wanted a shorter shutter lag -but what we put up with in 2002 wouldn’t sell today. A bigger LCD seems to be standard too -that makes things easier underwater.  

The list shrank pretty quickly. This brand uses proprietary batteries. That brand used memory stick. These other Brands didn’t have dive housings. But Canon’s Powershot A570IS ticked all the boxes, with the bonus of a dedicated Underwater mode and Image stabilization. I’ve been robust about Canon FUD that in-body stabilization doesn’t work, it does. Canon SLRs just don’t feel right in my hands; brand loyalty to Pentax isn’t absolute, but it’s stronger than any Brand antipathy I have for Canon. As it was, over the bank holiday weekend Canon were running a £50 cash-back promotion, a bit of checking found that the camera – (list price £220) could be shipped to my door for £140 – £90 after the cash back. Decision made.

It’s amazing to see how compacts have come on in 5 years.

  2002: Pentax Optio 430RS 2007 Canon Powesrhot A570IS
Cost ~ £400 ( List price £600) ~ £100 (List price £220)
Display 1 sq inch (1.2 x 9: diagonal 1.5″) 3 sq inch (2.0 x 1.5 diagonal 2.5″)
Shutter Lag Intrusively slow Tolerably slow
USB 1.0 requires driver (mini-b connector) 2.0 plug and play (mini-b connector)
Apperture f/2.6 or f/5 (wide)
f/4.8 or f/9.2(tele)
f/2.6 – f/8 in 1/3 stop steps (wide)
f/5.5 – f/8 (tele)
Zoom range 3x in 6 steps  (38-113mm equivalent on 7.2 x 5.3 mm sensor) 4x  in 7 steps(35-140mm equivalent on 5.8×4.3mm sensor).
Megapixels 4 7
ISO 100,200 80,100,200,400,800,1600
Video 320×240 14 fps (Mute) 640×480 30fps with (surprisingly good) sound
Other   Image stabilization, Facial recognition auto-focus,Voice notes, underwater mode,  Rule of thirds grid, stitch assist mode, Red eye removal

As I said I don’t see the greater pixel count as giving me higher resolution pictures. The Canon’s imaging chip is only 2/3 the size of the Pentax’s one, I doubt if it’s lens is any better – but to give those pixels the same amount of detail to digitize it needs be much better. It’s capturing an inferior image with greater fidelity.  More pixels in a smaller area and higher ISO rating mean Canon need to be aggressive with noise reduction, which reduces detail.

When I care about quality I’ve got my SLR, with a couple of fantastic Pentax prime lenses. The new compact’s job is to get pictures that the old one missed, in places where the SLR won’t go. And I’m happy it will do that.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


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